As lockdown fuels domestic abuse, social media users fight back

By Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji

LONDON/TBILISI/NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When British teenager Kaitlyn McGoldrick heard domestic violence was increasing under lockdown, she posted a video on social media showing victims how to make a silent emergency call to police without their attackers finding out.

“I just wanted to get the message out there that there are still places you can go,” said McGoldrick, 14, a volunteer police cadet whose post has had more than 50,000 views on the TikTok video-sharing platform.

As coronavirus curbs trap victims under the same roof as abusers, the United Nations has called domestic violence a “shadow pandemic”, and the issue has led to a flurry of online campaigns by charities, celebrities and ordinary social media users.

Inundated with positive responses to her video, McGoldrick plans to share more advice posts with backing from the local police youth volunteer group to which she belongs.

Some of the anti-abuse posts circulating on social media are proving more controversial, however.

There has been criticism of a trend on TikTok in which young women wear lurid fake blood makeup to depict domestic violence scenarios. Critics say such videos could upset victims and often appear more clickbait than genuine campaigning.

Domestic violence campaign groups have also expressed concerns about posts inviting victims to get in touch for support instead of directing them to more expert advice.

SPOTLIGHT ON VIOLENCE

Still, most campaigners say attention-grabbing posts and videos have shone a spotlight on violence within the family, which is often cloaked in shame and fear that stops many victims seeking help.

“We need and appreciate attention on this critical and all-too-often hidden issue,” Latanya Mapp Frett, chief executive of the Global Fund for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While celebrities from Russian punk band Pussy Riot to Bollywood stars have spoken out in anti-domestic violence campaigns, the vast majority of online posts are shared by ordinary social media users.

Some post on their own stories of abuse, often offering to support others going through similar situations.

Others share clips including tips such as how to secretly call police under the guise of ordering a pizza.

Attention-grabbing videos like those posted on TikTok could particularly help reach young people who might be less able to spot warning signs of abuse, said Marcella Pirrone, of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).

She cautioned that posters should offer emotional support and information rather than pressuring women to potentially put themselves at risk by demanding they contact police, but said wider discussion of the issue was valuable.

“What’s interesting is there is a lot of talk about violence now and that’s something we had always been asking for: to have awareness-raising, to have proper attention to this,” she said.

RAISE AWARENESS

The involvement of celebrities and social media influencers is also helping to raise awareness about the heightened risk of abuse during worldwide lockdowns.

“COVID-19 has not created new problems for women, it has just exacerbated the old ones,” U.S. comedian and presenter Samantha Bee said in a clip from her late-night television show addressing gendered abuse and shared on her social media pages.

The video, which has gathered hundreds of thousands of views, includes helpline details and highlights virtual support groups for women unable to leave the house.

A social media campaign starring more than a dozen Bollywood and theatre actors was launched in India earlier this month by Mumbai-based Women in Film and Television (WIFT).

“If you’re beaten at home, if you’re facing excesses or bad behavior and you want to report it, please call on the helpline numbers below,” said actor Richa Chadha in an online video in the #baskuchdinaur (‘Just a few more days’) campaign.

In Russia, a pop star who was condemned for suggesting women who spoke out against abuse had mental problems has sought to make amends by producing an informative YouTube movie about domestic violence that has racked up more than 4 million views.

In a country with high levels of abuse where speaking out is often stigmatized, Regina Todorenko’s 80-minute film has drawn “unprecedented” public attention to the issue, said Janette Akhilgova, a Russia consultant for rights group Equality Now.

With many people spending more time on social media during the lockdown, the teenager McGoldrick said it was a vital tool for increasing awareness.

“It’s such an important subject to get out there,” she said. “The more people are spreading the word about it, the better.”

(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Umberto Bacchi and Annie Banerji; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Back on the road

The U.S. auto industry is slowly returning to life with assembly plants scheduled to reopen on Monday and suppliers gearing up in support as the sector that employs nearly 1 million people seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) all have been preparing for weeks to reopen their North American factories in a push to restart work in an industry that accounts for about 6% of U.S. economic activity.

The reopening will be a closely watched test of whether workers across a range of industries can return to factories in large numbers without a resurgence of infections.

Hitting new lows

Japan’s economy became the world’s largest to slip into recession after the pandemic, first-quarter data showed on Monday, putting the nation on course for what could be its deepest post-war slump.

The GDP numbers underlined the broadening impact of the outbreak, with exports plunging the most since the devastating March 2011 earthquake as global lockdowns and supply chain disruptions hit shipments of Japanese goods.

But analysts warn of an even bleaker picture for the current quarter as consumption crumbled after the government in April requested citizens to stay home and businesses to close.

China on alert for new wave

While much of the rest of the world is experimenting with easing restrictions, one Chinese province is back in a partial lockdown after a spate of infections.

Jilin in the northeast reported two more confirmed cases over the weekend to take its total number of new infections to 33 since the first case of the current wave was reported on May 7. Separately, the financial hub of Shanghai reported one new locally transmitted case for May 17, its first since late March.

Pop-up carparks

Australia’s most populous state New South Wales encouraged its residents to avoid peak-hour public transport as it began its first full week of loosened lockdown measures, which saw people heading back to offices.

To help with maintaining social distancing, extra bicycle lanes and pop-up car parking lots will be made available, officials said.

“We normally encourage people to catch public transport but given the constraints in the peak…, we want people to consider different ways to get to work,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Furloughs no cure-all

Temporary unemployment schemes have spread far wider and faster than during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, but are not likely to save jobs in sectors which face a tougher recovery post-pandemic, such as leisure and tourism.

These schemes, which typically provide at least 80% of pay for workers for whom there is no work now, mean companies do not face firing and potential re-hiring costs. Workers are more inclined to keep spending and so help prop up the economy.

“If it’s more than a year, you need other solutions and will need other policies like retraining,” said Gregory Claeys, senior fellow at economic think-tank Bruegel. “It’s good in a lockdown, but if there is more social change, you need alternatives.”

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

‘Wild, wild West’: Wisconsin reopens for business

By Brendan O’Brien

PORT WASHINGTON, Wis. (Reuters) – As a handful of patrons sat at the bar nursing beers and watching a rerun of a Milwaukee Bucks basketball game on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, Junior Useling prepared for what he hoped would be another busy night at the Patio Bar & Grill.

It was just last evening that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the governor does not have the power to impose a statewide coronavirus lockdown, sparking a mix of hope and confusion among struggling business owners across the Midwestern state.

Useling, 71, considers himself one of the lucky ones: Port Washington is part of Ozaukee County, which unlike a half-dozen other counties and cities across Wisconsin has interpreted the court’s decision as an unfettered green light.

“Why would I stay closed? … I got mortgages and bills. My god, if we kept on going we would all be broke,” he told Reuters. “This country is supposed to be free to do what you want.”

The court sided with a legal challenge from Republican lawmakers who argued the state’s top public health official, Andrea Palm, exceeded her authority by imposing a stay-at-home order through May 26.

Not long after the ruling was announced, some beer-loving Wisconsinites rushed to bars for their first taste of freedom in nearly two months, and pictures appeared on social media of maskless crowds of revelers nowhere near 6 feet apart.

The rift over how and when to reopen in Wisconsin reflects its status as a key battleground for the Nov. 3 presidential election, along with neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Donald Trump won by a hair in 2016.

At a media briefing on Thursday, Palm urged state residents to continue to stay home even if their local leaders said otherwise, warning that relaxed restrictions risked “increasing our cases and deaths.”

Wisconsin had recorded 11,380 coronavirus cases and 433 deaths as of Thursday.

The owner of Remington’s River Inn, Amy Ollman, said she had already made up her mind to reopen before the ruling, a decision endorsed by a patron who shouted “open up America” as she described cleaning tables and chairs for the past two weeks.

“Top to bottom, left to right, we cleaned this entire place,” she said from behind her bar in the village of Thiensville, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Milwaukee and also part of Ozaukee County. “It’s time to get back to normalcy.”

WRESTLING WITH DECISIONS

The court’s decision came as state leaders wrestle with how and when to relax mandatory business closures and other restrictions on social gatherings that have proved successful in slowing the outbreak but have devastated the economy.

Like most of his counterparts, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has had to weigh the interests of cities such as Milwaukee and Madison against less-populated areas that have seen fewer cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Evers’ one-size-fits-all approach rankled Republicans in his state and drew fire from President Donald Trump, who took a swipe at the governor on Twitter on Thursday saying Wisconsin was “bustling” and “people want to get on with their lives.”

But the court’s ruling also triggered confusion as some local leaders in cities such as Milwaukee and Appleton, as well as in Dane, Brown and Kenosha counties, kept their lockdowns in place.

Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, sent out guidance on Thursday telling her group’s 7,000 mainly independent eating and drinking establishments to follow local restrictions if they exist.

“The rest of the state they can open 100% however they want,” she said. “It’s a little bit of the Wild Wild West right now.”

Mike Eitel said his phone “blew up” after the court ruling with patrons wanting to know if Milwaukee’s Nomad World Pub and the other establishments he owns would be opening that night. He said it was a clear sign of pent-up demand.

But like other owners, Eitel said he has struggled to buy masks, gloves and other protective equipment for his workers, is faced with rising meat prices and wonders if a bar can even be profitable with strict social distancing rules.

He has also had to straddle two worlds: while the Nomad cannot open its doors until May 26 at the earliest under city rules, the outdoor bar and water sports rental shop he runs in neighboring Waukesha County has been free of any restrictions as of Wednesday night.

“There is massive confusion on what it all means,” Eitel said. “It’s insane.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Port Washington, Wisconsin and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)

Truckers hit by coronavirus pandemic face rocky road to recovery

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bryan Hutchens in Oklahoma estimates he’s only used his two flat-bed trucks to shift oilfield equipment for a week out of the past month as the coronavirus crisis shutters businesses.

In New York, trucking firm ERL Intermodal says its cargo volumes have halved as lockdowns sideline its business of moving everything from olive oil to garden hoses to truck parts.

At the world’s busiest border, trucks hauling food and consumer products north to the United States are returning empty to Mexico where mass job losses have hit demand, leaving cash-strapped truckers to log hundreds of costly, empty miles.

The pandemic has turned the global trucking industry on its head. As swathes of the world economy shut down and curbs on movement and gatherings disrupt supply chains, freight companies are hemorrhaging cash and sidelining thousands of truckers.

“Once the economy gets going again, my fear is that there will be so many truckers out of the business by then,” said Steve Sperbeck, general manager for ERL, which has a fleet of 52 trucks based in Utica, New York.

According to the International Road Transport Union (IRU) in Geneva, which represents operators in 80 countries, new freight contracts have declined by 60% to 90% since COVID-19 struck while empty runs have climbed by up to 40%.

For truckers shipping products such as car parts, clothes, flowers and construction materials, operations have ground to an almost complete halt, the IRU said.

Lockdown restrictions in India, the world’s second-most populous country, have sidelined 80% of the 10 million trucks behind a $130 billion industry that hauls 60% of the country’s freight.

In Brazil, which relies on trucks to shift key exports such as soybeans, coffee and sugar to ports, shipments have also slumped. Carlos Litti, director for road transportation at the National Confederation of Transport Workers, said firms were now delaying critical maintenance work such as tire retreading, as government support for the sector had been insufficient.

“At the moment, there is no way to pressure the government,” Litti said. “The economy just has to turn around.”

SMALL CARRIERS VULNERABLE

In March, U.S. freight rates surged on fears the virus and the closure of highway truck stops would discourage drivers from making long trips. But with many factories shut and port traffic down, rates have plummeted as truckers battle over jobs to try to stay afloat through the crisis.

If the pain is prolonged, smaller U.S. carriers that cannot spread their costs across a large fleet could shut their doors, pushing skilled drivers out of the business and accelerating a longer-term shortage of truckers, industry groups say.

Some 97% of trucking companies in the United States operate fewer than 20 trucks, and 91% have six or fewer, according to the American Trucking Associations. Those workers rely more often on one-off jobs than long-term contracts.

Some routes are paying just 75 cents to 80 cents a mile, less than half of what’s needed to pay for fuel, insurance and other operating costs, according to five truckers. Pay is mostly determined by distances driven and they have also dropped.

When energy firms hit by the slump in oil prices stopped giving work to Hutchens in Oklahoma, he parked his rigs instead of rushing, like many other truckers, to haul essential goods such as food and medical equipment at loss-making rates.

Bids in the spot market have crashed to the lowest in years as shuttered factories, schools and malls have left scores of truckers that usually have longer-term contracts searching for new cargo to haul.

“In some lanes, rates are lower now than they were 15 years ago, but all of our costs, from fuel to insurance, have gone up,” Hutchens said.

He has laid off one employee and may have to begin selling his equipment if business does not return to more normal levels in the next two to three months. Relaxed restrictions on driver hours and more transparency on shippers’ margins could help smaller operators compete, Hutchens said.

“We’re a small company. There’s not a whole lot we can cut,” he said. “When we do come back online, we don’t know what the volume is going to be, so we don’t know how quickly things are going to return to normal.”

For an interactive graphic on average U.S. truck freight rates click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Z3sgYG

‘WE’RE BEING GOUGED’

ERL Intermodal says it earns more from pre-contracted shipments than spot market loads but revenues for the central New York trucker have also dropped. Six ERL drivers have been furloughed and paychecks for those left have dropped 30% as their hours behind the wheel decline.

To make ends meet, ERL leased nine of its refrigerated trailers to the Department of Homeland Security for use as makeshift morgues for COVID-19 victims. The company also tapped an emergency government loan program to help to pay salaries.

“Financially, it probably wasn’t the best decision, but good drivers are hard to come by,” said ERL’s Sperbeck.

At the Mexico-U.S. border, some truckers are carrying just one full load south for every seven full northbound trips, well below the usual three-to-one ratio, according to data from freight forwarder Nuvocargo.

“We are very concerned that if business does not come back to usual … it’s going to result in things like bankruptcies and losing jobs,” Nuvocargo chief executive Deepak Chhugani said.

Dozens of U.S. truckers parked near the White House in Washington for over a week this month to protest over the low freight rates and industry regulations they say are disproportionately hurting small, independent truckers.

Standing by make-shift shelters, truck driver Mike Landis from Pennsylvania said his workload had dropped by up to 50% since the pandemic struck, and most of the jobs available were being offered at rates below operating costs.

“After being told we’re essential and told by the government to stay out here and basically risk our health to continue moving the things that the country needs, we’re being gouged,” Landis said.

“We’re here as middle-class people, the people that put the president in office, and we’re here asking him for help.”

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Alberto Alerigi in Sao Paulo and Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Clarke)

Lessons from around the world: How schools are opening up after COVID-19 lockdowns

(Reuters) – Public health official Anthony Fauci warned on Tuesday about the dangers to children if U.S. schools are reopened and California’s state university system, the largest in the United States, canceled classes for the fall semester.

As the U.S. debates when to bring children back into classrooms, phased-in reopenings have begun in numerous countries around the world.

Here’s how schools around the world are trying to protect children as they reopen:

SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES

Denmark eased its coronavirus lockdown in mid-April by reopening schools and day care centres, although concerns they might become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases convinced thousands of parents to keep their children at home.

Teaching staff there are under instruction to keep social distancing in place between children and, with many school buildings staying closed, some teachers are taking pupils outside and writing with chalk on the playground instead of a blackboard.

In Switzerland, children at Geneva’s La Tour School had to adapt to new rituals, with parents dropping them off at a distance. Classrooms were half full to reduce crowding and desks spaced two meters (6.5 feet) apart.

Under a courtyard shelter in heavy rain, children laughed while others played hopscotch and one girl helped a smaller child put on disposable gloves.

PLASTIC SHIELDS AND HAND SANITISER

In the Netherlands, the Springplank school in the city of Den Bosch installed plastic shields around students’ desks and disinfectant gel dispensers at the doorways.

“Our teachers are not worried,” said Rascha van der Sluijs, the school’s technical coordinator. “We have flexible screens that we bought so we can protect our teachers if students are coughing.”

The Canadian province of Quebec reopened some of its schools on Monday, as some parents and teachers expressed uncertainty over the move’s safety. The Ecole St-Gerard, in a Montreal suburb, opened with staff wearing visors and using hand sanitizer.

STAGGERED SCHOOL SHIFTS

Schools in Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, reopened on Monday but only allowing students to attend one day a week on a staggered basis.

Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, will resume face-to-face teaching from May 27, weeks earlier than expected. The state including the city of Melbourne will allow teenagers in classrooms first, followed by younger pupils from June 9, Andrew said.

Israel reopened some schools this month but the move was boycotted by several municipalities and many parents who cited poor government preparation.

Kitted with masks and hand-cleaners, the first three grades of elementary school and the last two grades of high school were allowed back, redistributed in classes capped at 15 pupils to enforce social distancing.

Across France, primary school pupils on Tuesday sat at least a metre apart in small classes and listened to teachers in masks on their first day back after two months of home-schooling during the coronavirus lockdown.

TESTING AND TEMPERATURE CHECKS

In Cyprus, health workers wearing personal protective equipment tested students for COVID-19 at a school in Nicosia after high schoolers were allowed to return beginning May 11.

In Shanghai, students and staff alike were required to enter the school building via a thermal scanner when school reopened last week after three months of lockdown. The walls are papered with posters on measures to tackle the coronavirus and in the spotlessly clean school canteen, glass walls divide the tables, so only two students can eat together.

It may be more like going to a hospital than a school, but the Shanghai students returning to class after three months of lockdown are thrilled to be there.

“I feel so excited coming back to school. Usually we look forward to the holidays but suddenly our holidays became so long, 17-year-old Zhang Jiayi told Reuters. “This time, we longed to go back to school, where we can see our friends and teachers.”

(Editing by Mark John and Lisa Shumaker)

Sitting ducks: UK charity sees surge in calls from stalking victims

By Emma Batha

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – British charities for victims of stalking have reported a surge in calls during the coronavirus lockdown, with women isolated at home saying they feel like “sitting ducks”.

Paladin, a national anti-stalking service, said on Monday that requests for help jumped 40% since the lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Campaigners said police and the judiciary did not take “the invidious crime” seriously enough even though research showed stalking was a factor in more than 90% of domestic homicides.

“Stalking is premeditated and is extremely dangerous behaviour,” said Rachel Horman, chairwoman of Paladin.

She said most victims were reporting being stalked via social media, messaging apps and email, but physical stalking was still happening despite the lockdown.

Some women had even found their stalkers waiting for them when they dropped off shopping for relatives.

“Their stalker is watching the house and knows exactly where they are now much more than they did in the past, and that’s making them feel a lot more anxious,” said Horman, a solicitor who specialises in domestic violence and stalking cases.

“I’ve had several clients say to me they feel like sitting ducks.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs a national anti-stalking helpline, says nearly 1.5 million people are victims of stalking each year in England and Wales.

The trust could not be contacted, but calls to the helpline are reported to have increased.

Katy Bourne, chairwoman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which advises Britain’s police forces, described lockdown as a “stalker’s paradise”.

“Stalkers normally would have to go to work, but now with everyone in lockdown they have 24 hours a day to obsess over their victims,” said Bourne.

“If they went into lockdown not knowing much about social media, and how to stalk across it, you can bet your life they’ve learned an awful lot since they’ve been indoors.”

Bourne, herself a victim of stalking, said referrals to a stalking support group in the south of England were up 26% since lockdown.

She said many victims suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and that by the time someone asks for help they had on average already suffered 100 incidents.

“I want police forces to absolutely make this a priority because there are many thousands of victims out there who are suffering in silence,” Bourne said.

“It’s pretty evil … It needs to be called out.”

Horman said there was growing support for a national register of stalkers and domestic abusers similar to the sex offenders register.

“They are serial offenders. If they stop abusing one person they don’t just give up, they will then focus on somebody else and it goes on and on,” she said. “It makes absolute sense to monitor them.”

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Germany surge sounds coronavirus alarm as world takes steps to reopen

By Douglas Busvine and Michel Rose

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – Germany reported on Monday that new coronavirus infections were accelerating exponentially after early steps to ease its lockdown, news that sounded a global alarm even as businesses opened from Paris hair salons to Shanghai Disneyland.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported that the “reproduction rate” – the number of people each person infected with the coronavirus goes on to infect – had risen to 1.1. Any rate above 1 means the virus is spreading exponentially.

German authorities had taken early steps to ease lockdown measures just days earlier, a stark illustration that progress can swiftly be reversed even in a country with one of the best records in Europe of containing the virus so far.

It follows a new outbreak in night clubs in South Korea, another country that had succeeded in limiting infections.

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the coronavirus. In Europe, the world’s worst-hit continent, Spain and France began major steps to ease lockdowns, while Britain announced more cautious moves.

Traffic flowed along the Champs Elysees in Paris, a giant tricolor flag billowing under the Arc de Triomphe, as workers cleaned shop-front windows to reopen.

“Everyone’s a little bit nervous. Wow! We don’t know where we’re headed but we’re off,” said Marc Mauny, a hairstylist who opened his salon in western France at the stroke of midnight when new rules took effect.

Mickey Mouse welcomed thinned-out crowds in Shanghai, the first Disney theme park to re-open, with a strict limit on the number of tickets. Parades and fireworks were canceled, and workers and guests were required to wear face masks and have their temperatures screened at the entrance.

“I think (these measures) make tourists feel at ease,” said Kay Yu, a 29-year-old pass holder wearing a Minnie Mouse hat, who said he had woken up at 4 a.m. to make the trip to the park.

“IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S OVER”

A German health ministry spokesman said the authorities were taking the rise in the infection rate seriously and it did not mean the outbreak was out of control.

Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat lawmaker and professor of epidemiology, had warned that the virus could start spreading again quickly after seeing large crowds outside on Saturday in his home city of Cologne.

“It has to be expected that the R rate will go over 1 and we will return to exponential growth,” Lauterbach said in a tweet. “The loosening measures were far too poorly prepared.”

In South Korea, which largely avoided a lockdown by implementing a massive testing and contact-tracing program early on, authorities were rushing to contain a new outbreak traced to night clubs.

“It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,” President Moon Jae-In said on Sunday.

New Zealand, which had success in fighting infection with one of the toughest and earliest lockdowns, said it would open malls, cafes, and cinemas this week.

“The upshot is that in 10 days’ time we will have reopened most businesses in New Zealand, and sooner than many other countries around the world,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference. “But that fits with our plan – go hard, go early – so we can get our economy moving again sooner.”

But some of the countries and territories that were taking steps to open up their economies were acting without yet reporting sustained falls in the spread.

India, which has locked down its population of 1.3 billion people since March, reported a record daily rise in cases. But it said it would begin to restart passenger railway services, with 15 special trains, from Tuesday.

Russia, where the death toll is still comparatively low but the caseload surging, overtook Italy and Britain to report the highest number of cases after the United States and Spain.

In the United States, where unemployment figures released last week were the worst since the Great Depression, President Donald Trump has been trying to shift the emphasis towards reopening the economy. Many states have begun loosening restrictions even though cases continue to rise.

While economies around the world are facing the worst contraction in living memory, stock markets have surged since the start of April, fuelled by unprecedented injections of cash from central banks. That has created unease that financial markets are out of whack with the economies they reflect.

There were signs of a shift in sentiment on Monday, with stock markets giving up their early gains.

“Since late March there has been an extraordinary divergence between the real economy and financial risk, with the latter helped by unprecedented policy accommodation,” said Alan Ruskin, head of G10 foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Wendy’s menu runs short as virus hits U.S. beef supplies

(Reuters) – Wendy’s Co said on Tuesday its restaurants may face a shortage of many menu items, including hamburgers, as beef processors in the United States struggle to keep their plants open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. meat manufacturers, including Tyson Foods Inc, have signaled disruptions to food supply as they are forced to shut many meat plants to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Beef suppliers across North America are currently facing production challenges. Because of this, some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment,” a Wendy’s spokesperson said.

The burger chain, known for its fresh-never-frozen patties, said it would continue to supply hamburgers to all of its restaurants, with deliveries two or three times a week.

Just before the virus outbreak in the United States, Wendy’s launched a new breakfast menu that included sausages, eggs, croissants, and a hamburger variation in the hopes of attracting more footfall in the morning, a crucial daypart for restaurateurs.

The pandemic has also led to rival McDonald’s Corp trimming its menu to serve drive-thru and delivery customers faster, while its dine-in operations remain shut. Chief Executive Officer Chris Kempczinski last week told analysts that the company has had no break in supply till date.

Several retailers including Kroger Co and Costco Wholesale Corp have also limited meat purchases per customers.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

Warm weather draws crowds in some cities as parts of U.S. start easing coronavirus lockdowns

By Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Sunny days and warm weather are proving to be as challenging to manage as restaurants, hair salons and other businesses, as about half of U.S. states partially reopen their economies after the coronavirus lockdown.

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to view a U.S. Navy flyover to honor healthcare workers and others battling the pandemic.

In New York City, the warmest weather yet this spring caused picnickers and sunbathers to flock to green spaces in Manhattan, including crowded conditions at the Christopher Street Pier in Greenwich Village, according to photos on social media.

Last week, California ordered beaches in Orange County to close, after crowds defied public health guidelines to throng the popular shoreline. Police in the county’s Huntington Beach said people were complying on Sunday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there were “some real issues” near the pier and police would increase patrols.

Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said on “Fox News Sunday” that massing on beaches was not safe unless people kept at least 6 feet (1.8 m) apart. She also weighed in against allowing such businesses as beauty salons and spas to reopen in the first phase.

“We’ve made it clear that that is not a good phase one activity,” she said, as the number of U.S. cases topped 1.1 million and the death toll rose to more than 67,000 on Sunday.

Protesters gathering, as they did last week in Michigan and other parts of the country to demonstrate against stay-at-home restrictions, posed a huge risk, she said.

“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or a very – or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” Birx said.

Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said on Sunday the country was seeing a “mixed bag” of results from coronavirus mitigation efforts. He said there were about 20 states seeing a rising number of new cases including Illinois, Texas, Maryland, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Virginia reported a record number of deaths on Sunday, up 44 for a total of 660.

“We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point. And we’re just not seeing that,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If we don’t snuff this out more and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”

‘PUTTING A TOE BACK IN’

Even in the face of rising cases, some Americans are eager to return to jobs, classrooms, socializing and large gatherings.

In a town hall event hosted by Fox News on Sunday night, President Donald Trump said he understood people’s desire to go back to work and school and that he expected classrooms to reopen in September.

But he said more needed to be done to ease the economic hit of the pandemic and that more help was coming for people who were unemployed.

In sports, the National Football League said it would announce its schedule for the upcoming season this week including its season-opening game on Sept. 10 and the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7.

“We are planning on playing the 2020 NFL season as scheduled,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email, noting that the most popular U.S sports league would adjust to government regulations.

On the other side of the spectrum was Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in Massachusetts, which has not begun reopening and is seeing coronavirus cases still climbing. Massachusetts also has issued a statewide order telling people to wear masks in public.

He said the rallies against coronavirus mitigation efforts were causing confusion and making his job harder.

“I don’t understand it. That makes messaging really confusing. … It’s the wrong message, because we’re still very much in the beginning days of coronavirus. Even if you’re a state that is seeing numbers go down,” Walsh said.

In New Mexico, where numbers have yet to see a sustained decline and Native Americans represent more than half of the cases, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham extended road closings into the city of Gallup to stem the state’s largest outbreak.

The shutdowns will continue until Thursday to slow infections in McKinley County, which is straddled by the Navajo Nation, an area suffering one of the highest per capita case rates in the country relative to U.S. states.

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Peter Cooney and Gerry Doyle)

Texas, Ohio join array of U.S. states reopening their economies

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Texas and Ohio pushed ahead on Friday with a phased relaxation of restrictions that U.S. states put in place weeks ago to curb the coronavirus pandemic, as Georgia took another step toward a full restart by allowing all businesses to reopen.

With White House guidelines for reopening having expired on Thursday, half of all U.S. states were forging ahead with a patchwork of strategies to allow businesses, from restaurants and retailers to construction and manufacturing, to emerge from a month of dormancy.

In Texas, one of the most populous U.S. states, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls could resume activity on Friday while limiting capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy, on orders of Governor Greg Abbott.

Ohio will start by allowing non-essential surgeries on Friday and then move to open construction and manufacturing on Monday, and retail shops and many consumer services on May 12, Governor Mike DeWine said earlier this week.

States are feeling enormous pressure to reopen businesses and restore social life, despite a lack of wide-scale virus testing and other safeguards urged by health experts, as the outbreak appears to have waned across many parts of the country.

No companies are required to reopen and it was unclear how many business owners and their employees would return to work, and how many patrons would venture back into stores and restaurants.

U.S. Labor Department data released on Thursday showed some 30 million Americans had sought unemployment benefits since March 21. The jobless toll amounts to more than 18.4% of the U.S. working-age population, a level not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

GEORGIA LEADS WAY

States, mostly in the South, the Midwest and mountain West, have moved to relax restrictions since Georgia led the way late last week. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said late on Thursday he was relaxing his state’s month-long shelter-in-place orders, allowing all businesses to reopen on Friday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said late on Thursday he was concerned about states and communities “leapfrogging” over the first phase of federal guidelines for reopening.

“Obviously, you could get away with that, but you’re making a really significant risk,” Fauci told CNN.

Phase One of the White House “Opening Up America Again” guidelines recommends states and regions satisfy a series of criteria including a 14-day decline in cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, a robust testing program and the healthcare capacity to handle a possible surge.

They also recommend that Americans “maximize physical distance” and avoid social settings of more than 10 people and that employers encourage telework whenever possible and a gradual return to the workplace.

Large venues that include sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues and places of worship can operate under “strict physical distancing protocols,” the guidelines state.

The number of coronavirus cases is still climbing in many parts of the country, although peaks appear to have been reached in New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and other places.

Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin all reported a record number of new cases on Thursday, though greater testing could account for some of the increases, revealing infections present but previously undetected.

Several states, including Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia, posted new highs in their daily death tolls.

As of late on Thursday, the number of known infections nationwide had climbed to well over 1 million, including nearly 63,000 deaths, far exceeding the tally of American war dead from all the years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Howard Goller)